China’s anti-terrorism policy deliberately targets ethnic minority communities such as Uyghurs and Tibetans struggling for greater autonomy, according to a white paper by a rights group.
The policy equates terrorism with groups pushing for more self-governing rights, is too broad in scope, and shirks international human rights commitments, said the Hong Kong and New York-based Human Rights in China (HRIC).
The paper looked into human rights concerns within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional intergovernmental organization which includes China and five other member states—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—with a total population of 1.5 billion people.
It said the SCO approach to counter-terrorism, modeled on China’sThree Evils doctrine, and highlighting principles of territorial integrity, noninterference in internal affairs, and social stability, contributes to supporting repressive regimes at the expense of human rights.
A failure to demand accountability from the SCO undermines the effectiveness and integrity of the international system in countering terrorism and advancing rule of law, peace, and security, HRIC said.
“China’s approach to counter-terrorism is the Three Evils doctrine, and it links terrorism with separatism and extremism,” HRIC director Sharon Hom said in an interview.
“This Three Evils approach is overbroad, highly politicized, and while not exclusively applied only to ethnic minority groups, it is regularly applied to Uyghurs and Tibetans in its practice.”
Hom said other SCO member states follow China’s lead by recognizing Xinjiang and Tibet as inalienable territories of China and repatriating its ethnic minorities who seek asylum within their borders.
“China has enormous clout in the SCO, and you can also see it in the ways in which the other SCO member states and the SCO will completely parrot China’s line and China’s policy on these two so-called autonomous regions.”
Treatment of Uyghurs
The HRIC white paper said it found “serious issues” concerning China’s treatment of Uyghurs, including the principle of non-refoulement and potential use of torture during interrogations.
Regulations specific to Xinjiang became part of China’s domestic counter-terrorism legal framework in December 2009 when provincial-level lawmakers revised the region’s Comprehensive Management of Social Order.
Through the revisions, Chinese authorities were ordered to specifically crack down on the three threats of "terrorism, separatism, and extremism" in the aftermath of the July 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi which left hundreds dead, according to official media reports.
HRIC called the amendments “unique” to Xinjiang, adding that “such singular focus by the Chinese government … suggests that the concept of terrorism has been applied in a biased fashion, with the Uyghur community the subject of intense scrutiny and suspicion.”
It noted that while China does face real threats of terrorism, “the limited involvement of Uyghurs in terrorist acts cannot serve as justification of widespread repression throughout [Xinjiang] or the labeling of peaceful Uyghur activists under the rubric of the Three Evils.”
Adherence to rules
But despite its reliance on the Three Evils doctrine, HRIC wrote, China continues to claim that it is acting to “firmly uphold and fulfill the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council,” according to a statement by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS).
Under U.N. rules, China pledged to oppose the “arbitrary widening” of the scope of fighting terrorism and identifying terrorism with any specific ethnic group or religion.
“The Three Evils doctrine undermines this principled approach and, in doing so, compromises human rights guaranteed under international law, and international counter-terrorism efforts as a whole,” HRIC said.
HRIC recommended that Beijing narrow its "Three Evils"-based approach to national security and reformulate its definition of terrorism.
On June 24 last year, Chinese authorities announced they had broken up a "terrorist" ring of a Uyghur separatist group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), after arresting more than ten of its members involved in an alleged major plot against China.
The announcement said that information leading to the arrest had been obtained through the investigation of 20 “individuals of Chinese citizenship” who had been deported to China on December 20, 2009—the exact date that Cambodia deported 20 Uyghurs seeking asylum following the July 5 ethnic unrest in Urumqi.
The statement also indicated that several of the alleged ETIM members had confessed to participating in a wide array of terrorist activities during interrogation.
Human Rights Watch said in February that the Cambodian government has a “dismal track record” of deporting refugees granted asylum status by the UNHCR, particularly those from neighboring countries such as China and Vietnam.
Millions of Uyghurs—a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly Muslim—populate Central Asia and the Xinjiang region.
Ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese settlers have simmered for years, and erupted in riots in July 2009 that left some 200 people dead, according to the Chinese government’s tally.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of maintaining links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Reported by Mamatjan Juma for RFA’s Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.